Booze You Can Use

How to be the best consumer you can be.
Aug. 31 1999 2:00 AM

Booze You Can Use

Getting the best beer for your money.

(Continued from Page 4)

  • One and only one beer truly survived the blind taste test. This is Sam Adams, which 10 tasters independently ranked "best" without knowing they were drinking a fancy beer. (They knew it was darker than the others but couldn't have known whether this was some trick off-brand sneaked into the test.)
  • Don't serve Grolsch unless you know people will consider it exotic, or unless you've invited me.
  • Apart from Sam Adams and Grolsch, the tasters really had trouble telling one beer from another. This conclusion is implicit in many of the findings, but it was really obvious during the experiment itself, when the confident look of men-who-know-their-beer quickly turned to dismay and panic as they realized that all the lagers tasted pretty much the same.

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The evidence suggests other implications about specific beers. For instance, the comments about Coors Light are much less enthusiastic than the average-or-better numerical rankings. Most tasters paused to complain about it--"fizzy and soapy"--before giving it reasonable marks. But the main implication, and the most useful consumer news from this study, is a radically simplified buying philosophy for lager beers. Based on this study, rational consumers should:

1) Buy Sam Adams when they want an individual glass of lager to be as good as it can be.

2) Buy Busch at all other times, since it gives them the maximum taste and social influence per dollar invested.

The detailed rankings and comments for all tasters on all beers may be found here.

Next installment: fancy beers.

James Fallows is national correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly and author, most recently, of Free Flight.

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